Though it may seem like a pedestrian chore, doing the laundry has a bigger impact on the planet than you might think. Between 75 and 80 % of our clothing's lifecycle impact comes from washing and drying, according to reports by Proctor and Marks & Spencer, because it takes so much energy to heat the wash water and run the dry cycle. So there's huge potential to reduce your personal energy and water use, and therefore your environmental footprint, by simply greening your laundry habits.
When it comes to reducing the carbon footprint associated with our wardrobes, making your laundry more eco-friendly has multiple benefits: It's better for your wallet, your wardrobe, and your planet. Everybody wins, so here are a few tips to help you get started.
Wear it more than once
It doesn't go for everything (unmentionables and socks come to mind), but the simplest way to cut back on your laundry's impact is to just do less of it. Wearing your clothes more than once before tossing them in the dirty pile is the first step in greening your laundry habits. The United Nations Environment Programme crunched the numbers and discovered that you can consume up to five times less energy by wearing your jeans at least three times, washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer or the iron.
Use green laundry detergent
Conventional detergents can contain ingredients that aren't good for you, your clothes, or aquatic ecosystems where the dirty water we wash down the drain can end up. Phosphates in conventional laundry soaps can cause algal blooms that negatively effect ecosystems and marine life. To shop for more eco-friendly detergents, look for labels that indicate a product is readily biodegradable and phosphate-free, and made from plant- and vegetable-based ingredients (instead of petroleum-based), which means they're healthier for the planet, from production to rinse cycle. These are often gentler on skin, too. Other alternatives include soap nuts, which are made from certain tree seeds, produce a soapy substance when they come in contact with water, and can be composted after being used up. (A liquid version is available, too.) Fabric softeners, by the way, can be replaced by a cup of white vinegar added to the washer during the rinse cycle. Vinegar naturally balances the pH of soap, leaving your clothes soft and free of chemical residue.
Hand washing really gives you a sense of how much laundry you're going through on a weekly basis so why not give it a try? You might be surprised at your weekly load.
Maximize your washer for energy efficiency
First, Wash on 30 degrees or in cold water. A whopping 90 percent of energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water, costing you more every year. With more and more detergents specialized for cold-water washing, your whites will still get white without the hot (or warm) water. Next, be sure to wash only full loads of laundry, which ensures that your machine is operating at peak efficiency. If you can't manage to fill 'er up, the "load size selector option" (if you have one) ensures that smaller loads use less water.
Hang it out to dry
There are millions of dryers in the World, each emitting more than a ton of carbon dioxide per year. Because dryers uses so much energy, skipping it altogether can make a real difference. Added bonus? Clothes last longer when you line dry because there's less wear and tear than when you use the dryer.
Maximize your dryer
Line-drying doesn't have to be an all or nothing choice. If you're sticking with the dryer for part (or all) of the time, cleaning the lint filter frequently will increase efficiency and shorten drying time. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it. This will automatically reduce the amount of drying time or shut off the machine when it senses that clothes are dry, which reduces wear and tear on your threads and saves lots of energy.
We also recommend ditching the dryer sheets, which can be full of cancer-causing chemicals and neurotoxins such as toluene and styrene. They also break down organic fibers, shortening the life of your fabrics. Instead, toss a sachet of dried organic lavender in the dryer for a healthy, sweet scent.
Don't iron if you don't have to
Not only is ironing a tedious chore, it also consumes energy and can deteriorates fabric. So you probably won't mind if we put the kibosh on this boring activity. Still, no self-respecting environmentalist wants to look ruffled, right? To avoid looking haggard, simply hang clothes up immediately after the wash cycle is complete. The water still in them will work with gravity to pull most wrinkles out. For wrinkle-prone clothing such as linen, cut the final spin cycle, which will leave even more water in the garments, creating yet more pull. Then fold dry clothes where you want creases to be, and place them under other clothes in your dresser, which will further help to press them.
Dry Clean only When necessary
Conventional dry cleaning is a decidedly un-green process; most businesses use the chemical perchloroethylene (also called "perc"), which research studies have shown may be dangerous to our health. Exposure to this chemical has been linked to increased risks of bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer; eye, nose, throat and skin irritation; and reduced fertility; among other effects.
Luckily, there are alternatives. For starters, if you want to eliminate dry cleaning from your life, start by buying clothes that don't require it, it's wise to read labels before making purchases. Also, recognize that many delicates and other garments, including those made from cashmere and lambs' wool, can be safely and easily hand washed.
For those items that must be professionally treated, don't sweat it. Reducing your exposure (not eliminating it) is a fine goal. Plus, greener dry cleaners are also on the horizon. Some businesses now use liquid carbon dioxide instead of "perc". Wet cleaning is another professional alternative that uses water, along with computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents that are milder than home laundry products, and professional pressing and finishing equipment.
Repair and Recycle your favourite garments
All clothing can be repaired to be worn for longer. Recycling and repairing rather than quickly dispose them is the best option. It also gives you the opportunity to be involved in the process of recreating something totally unique for you.
Sustainable Fashion brands take into account durability and quality of fabrics when planning their collections, but it does not mean that they won't need minor repairs in the future.
In case you do not want your clothing anymore, head to the nearest Charity shop and they will be likely to find a new home. Upcycling is a huge trend right now!